This time it’s amicable: the Socialist Party loses a TD again as Paul Murphy leaves

Analysis: Differences over relations with other parties and group at heart of latest split

Paul Murphy, who has left the Socialist Party,  argued for more engagement with the Green Party and Sinn Féin, but his party colleagues in Leinster House disagreed. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Paul Murphy, who has left the Socialist Party, argued for more engagement with the Green Party and Sinn Féin, but his party colleagues in Leinster House disagreed. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Some weeks before he left the Socialist Party, the Dublin West TD Paul Murphy played a game of chess with his colleague Mick Barry. The Cork North Central Deputy used to play a lot in his youth.

“Chess is all about strategy,” said Murphy. “There are different strategies.”

You could not find a more handy metaphor for the complex argument that has been raging within the Socialist Party and which culminated on Thursday with Murphy announcing he was leaving the party.

For those involved it was intense and absorbing. For those looking from the outside the arguments seem as confusing and bewildering as a newspaper chess column.

The history of smaller left-wing parties in Ireland is one of splits and fragmentation. The Socialist Party was beset with ructions in the 31st Dáil when Clare Daly left. Now it is the turn of Paul Murphy, one of the main faces of the water protest movement.

Murphy has been a TD since 2014, and was previously the party’s MEP for Dublin. Some will follow him from the party.

The Socialist Party is probably the most ideologically orthodox of the Trotskyist movements in Ireland and has tended to shy away from any larger group or movement that might dilute its stand-points.

Murphy, influenced by Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, has argued for more engagement with other parties of the left, grass-root movements campaigning for socialist causes or against climate change, and civil society groups such as Together for Yes.

Murphy and a small group of his supporters in the party also argued for more engagement with the Green Party and Sinn Féin.

Leaked documents disclosed by The Irish Times in March reported Murphy as saying the party would present the truth “in the way which is most digestible to the working class at a particular time”.

At least the split this time has been amicable. Murphy is staying within the Solidarity-People Before Profit alliance but will form his own group.

The lack of animus was such that the three TDs in the Socialist party - the others being Mick Barry and Ruth Coppinger - agreed to do a joint interview with The Irish Times on Thursday to show they differed on strategy but that good relations remained.

Barry and Coppinger regard Sinn Féin as sectarian in the North and not representative of working-class people. They also believe it has “tacked to the right”, as Barry puts it.

The Socialist Party did play a part in Together for Yes. Murphy argued it should have played a greater role but Coppinger countered that Together for Yes was conservative and essentially the Government campaign.

Barry said the party and Murphy wanted the same thing, which was the defeat of capitalism and a democratic socialist state. He said the differences were all about strategy.

“I won the chess game by a very narrow margin. The strategy here is what is the best approach to defeat the rule of big business. We will see if we can show our strategy is best. Time will tell.”

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